‘Crazy Rich Asians’ flops in China box office debut

Crazy Rich Asians, the first major Hollywood movie with an all-Asian cast in a quarter of a century, failed to impress audiences in China upon debut.

The romantic comedy pulled in $1.2 million (£940 million) at the box office in China over opening weekend after releasing Nov. 30, a far cry from the roughly $25 million it grossed upon its August premiere in the US. 

In total, the film has netted $240 million globally.

Given a disappointing showing, Chinese exhibitors slashed the number of screenings per day from 32,000 on Friday to 18,700 on Saturday, Variety reported.

Crazy Rich Asians, based on a 2013 novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, stars Constance Wu and Henry Golding in a love story about a Chinese-American woman whose relationship with her Chinese-Singaporean boyfriend is complicated by his family’s insane wealth.

The film was seen as a watershed moment for many Asian Americans where representation has been shortchanged on the silver screen – the previous major all-Asian Hollywood film was The Joy Luck Club, released in 1993.

But in China, where a domestic movie industry is flourishing, an all-Asian cast is not a novelty. China is now the world’s second-largest movie market, bringing in nearly $9 billion in box office receipts last year, as audiences flock to see homegrown romantic comedies and epic warrior films.

Authorities also took months to review the film and finally gave it the green light in October, months after its initial global release. Whether Chinese government censors would allow it to air was always a question, as the movie drips with wealth and decadence – the opposite image of austerity the ruling Communist Party strives to promote.

In general, the government heavily restricts news and entertainment. Only about 30 foreign films are allowed to be screened each year, and sometimes parts of those films are censored.

Even before the official Chinese debut, it seems many had already seen the film, via pirated versions online or after travelling abroad.

For months, plenty of unimpressed viewers have posted tens of thousands of comments on Douban.com, China’s version of RottenTomatoes. “Crazy Rich Asians,” translated in Chinese to “An Unexpected Gold-Digging Romace,” has a low 6.2 rating out of 10 on the site.

Singaporeans were also on high alert earlier this year over how the film, which largely takes place in the Southeast Asian city, would depict their home.

Much of the criticism from Chinese has been about a lack of authenticity. One person described the film as “crazy stereotypical,” saying it had only “superficial” understanding of Asian people overall.

Another wrote, “So Chinese people in the eyes of Europeans and Americans are only about clans, extravagant snobbery, blind sense of superiority, and stubbornly clinging to outdated rules and ideas?”

“It feels like going to a Chinese restaurant in America to eat General Tso’s chicken,” another wrote, poking fun at a non-traditional dish that some foreigners enjoy. “It looks like a film about Asians, but the spirit of it is American. The leading actress is an ABC; the story is about how Asians look in the eyes of Americans.”

One described it as a “fairy tale for ABCs,” using a popular acronym to mean American-born Chinese, who are culturally different from mainland Chinese.

But others appreciated a scene drenched in symbolism between the protagonist, Chinese-American professor Rachel Chu, and her wealthy boyfriend’s disapproving Singaporean mother, Eleanor Young. In the dramatic scene, the two don’t speak their rivalry with words, but do so instead with strategic moves in a bout of mahjong, an old game that plays on traditional Chinese beliefs.

“So many good details in that mahjong scene that show the battle,” wrote another person on Douban.